Thursday, December 28, 2023

"Never Mind"

At last Milford got his fly buttoned up, and the tiny man called Shorty reached up and tugged on his peacoat’s sleeve.

“Great, now let’s get them ales, pal.”

“Yo, youse two,” said the big guy who had been waiting behind them. He was an enormous bearded fellow with a pipe in his mouth and a hunting cap on his head, wearing a checked flannel shirt and blue jeans with suspenders. “Ain’t yez forgetting something?”

“What would that be, Paul Bunyan?” said Shorty. He still had his thick cigarette in his mouth, and he spoke without removing it.

“You take up both urinals for like fifteen minutes, and now you don’t even flush?”

“Okay, two things, Two Ton Tony,” said the tiny man. “One, my friend here didn’t even pee, so why should he flush?”

“Okay, so he’s off the hook, but what about you, short-change? God knows you pissed a gallon if you pissed a quart.”

“It is true, I did not flush the terlet,” said Shorty, “but that is because who knows what kinda germs is on that handle?”

“So just because the handle’s got germs on it you don’t flush it? That’s why you wash your fucking hands, shrimp. And anyways, there’s a technique. What you do is you depress the handle with the side of your hand with a hammer motion –” the man demonstrated the motion, “and then you only get the cooties on the side, which you then forthwith wash with soap and water.”

“Ah, but you forget, dear Gargantua,” said Shorty, “I am only three feet six inches in heighth, and so the only way I could depress the handle with the side of my hand with a hammering motion would be to leap up and try to hit it on my way down.”

“So why didn’t you do just that?”

“Why did I not do that, you ask?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m asking. Why didn’t you leap up and flush the terlet with the side of your hand in a hammering or chopping motion on your descent.”

“I’ll tell you why I didn’t do it.”

“Go ahead. Why?”

“I didn’t do it because I didn’t feel like jumping up like a idiot and rabbit-punching a terlet handle, that’s why.”

“It’s people like you that make the world a very unpleasant place,” said the big man, after a pause.

“Oh, fuck off, ya big bum. You were in such a hurry to use the pisser, why are you standing here jabbering?”

“Y’know, something, half-pint, you are lucky you are only three foot six.”

“Oh, yeah, why? ‘Cause if I was taller you would take a swing at me? Well, go ahead, tough guy, give it a try. I dare you.”

“Wait a minute,” said Milford at last, pushing the words out of his mouth as if they were made of great wads of soggy cotton. “Look, here.”

He reached over Shorty’s head and depressed the handle of the urinal the little fellow had used. A thin trickle of grey water came from a small black hole in the stained and cracked porcelain and weakly coursed down toward the swampy puddle at the base of the urinal, with its detritus of cigarette-and-cigar butts and wads of chewing gum.

“There,” said Milford. “I flushed it.”

“Okay, then,” said the big man. “That’s all I asked. At least you are a gentleman, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Milford.

“Unlike some people I could mention,” said the big man.

“Keep it up, pal,” said the little guy. “Just keep it up. ‘Cause you are just about one cooze-hair away from getting my fist up your fat ass.”

“Look, just get out of my way,” said the big man. “I’m about to piss myself.”

“Bet it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Hey, sir,” said Milford to Shorty, touching his shoulder, “can we just go now?”

“Okay,” said the little man. “But only ‘cause you asked me. But you, King Kong,” he pointed his tiny index finger up at the big man, “you watch your step around me. ‘Cause you don’t know how close you just came to getting your balls bit off and spat back in your stupid face.”

“Aw, scram, willya, and let me take a slash.”

“Sure, I’ll scram, but only because my friend here ast me to.” He reached up again and grabbed Milford’s wrist. “Come on, pal, it stinks around here. Pull me up onto your shoulders, we’ll make better time.”


“Just swing me up onto your shoulders, I don’t weigh much.”

“I feel weird doing that.”

“I feel weird every second of my life, now pull me up.”

“Oh, all right,” said Milford, and with surprising lack of difficulty he lifted his wrist up, the little fellow deftly swung his childlike legs on either side of Milford’s neck, and then placed his hands firmly on Milford’s collarbone.

“Okay, let’s go,” said the little man, and Milford began to forge through the monstrous milling mob toward the door he had come in through.

“No, not that way,” said the little guy. “Bear to the left.”

“But I want to get out of here,” said Milford.

“We’ll get out of here. Now bear to the left.” He guided Milford with his legs, as if he were a horse. “Outa our way, you rumdums,” he yelled at the thronging men, “comin’ through!”

“Where are we going?” said Milford.

“To get them ales,” said the tiny man on Milford’s shoulders. “Now go through this door here.”

Sure enough there was a door there, to the right of the toilet stalls.

“This door?” said Milford.

“That door. Open it up.”

“Wait. We forgot to wash our hands.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, do you really want to go back and wash your hands? Do you know how long that could take?”

“Possibly a long time?”

“Possibly a very long time. Like if this was a novel it might take us three more chapters just to make it back to this door is how long it might take, even longer, I don’t know. Maybe never. You really want to take that chance, just to wash your hands?”

“It just seems so unsanitary.”

“Sanitariness is overrated. You think the cavemen were sanitary? You think they washed their hands every time they pissed?”

“I don’t know.”

“I got news for you, they didn’t. Now open the fucking door.”


Milford opened the door and saw a dimly lit narrow corridor, extending into darkness.

“Oh, no,” he said.

“Now what?”

“I’m afraid,” said Milford. “I just want to go back out the way I came in.”

“You’re hurting my feelings, buddy,” said the little man. “Because at least where I come from, way I was raised, a man offers to buy you a glass of ale and you refuse it that is the gravest insult. Possibly even more so than impugning the honor of one’s mother, or God forbid, your sister. What did you say your name was?”

“I don’t think I said, but my name is Milford.”

“Like your mother.”

“Yes, she’s Mrs. Milford, but I just go by Milford.”

“So your name is Milford Milford?”

“No,” said Milford, after a great sigh that almost dislodged the little fellow from his shoulders. “My name is Marion Milford. But I prefer to be called just Milford.”

“And I don’t blame you one bit. You remember my sobriquet?”

“Um, Short Stuff?”

“Close. Shorty. Which ain’t my real name either but it’s what I go by. So just call me Shorty because I don’t like my real name either, which is never mind.”


“You ain’t gonna ask what my real name is?”

“I wasn’t planning to.”

“Go ahead, ask.”

“Okay, what’s your real name?”

“My name is Never Mind.”

“Your name is Never Mind?”


“That’s very strange.”

“I’m fucking with you.”


“My name is Odo.”


“Odo Guggenheim.”


“Now do you know why I don’t mind going by Shorty?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“We all got our crosses to bear, my friend. Like you’re bearing me right now. Now you gonna go down that corridor like a man, Tilford? If not you can just set me down right here and I’ll go all by myself. It’s your choice. And to tell the truth at this point I don’t even give a fuck if you’re gonna be such a pussy about it. Jesus Christ.”

“But, look, I just remembered I’m supposed to be having a drink with Louisa May Alcott.”

“One glass of ale,” said the tiny man into Milford’s right ear. “One quick one, and then you can go off to have your drink with Lou Alcott. Believe me, she’s not going to miss you for the time it takes you to down one lousy short ale.”

“Well –”

The tiny man dug his little heels into Milford’s ribs.

“Great, then let’s go,” he said. 

And Milford headed into the narrow dim corridor, with the tiny man on his shoulders.

Milford heard the door close behind him, and the babble of the monstrous men in the POINTERS room became muffled and distant, and the corridor grew darker.

“Just go straight down this hallway,” said Shorty, his cigarette dropping its ash down the front of Milford’s peacoat. “Nothing to be afraid of, buddy. Nothing at all.”

{Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 21, 2023



Milford set to unfastening the sturdy stamped-brass buttons of the fly of his dungarees (he preferred the “authenticity” of button flies to zippers), but unfortunately his fingers still felt like living uncooked sausages, as his alleged organ of masculinity continued to pulse and throb unremittingly.

“Oh, damn,” he said. “Oh, damn, and damn again.”

And continuing silently as he still struggled with the top button below his belt, Yes, I am damned, damned not once or even just twice, or thrice, but no, each second of my absurd existence, and if I ever manage to get out of this place the first thing I will do is to try to hail a cab, and I shall ask the driver to take me up to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. I will tip him handsomely, explaining that I only wish to take a nice brisk midnight stroll in the snowstorm on the bridge, looking out at the vague twinkling lights of the mighty city, and he will say, “Thanks, buddy, have a nice walk,” knowing full well what I intend to do and not giving a shit which is to climb over the rail and throw myself into the cold river clogged with ice floes and thus put an end to this nightmare of an existence once and for all…

“Hey, pal, you need some help with them buttons?”

This was a tiny man standing at the urinal to Milford’s right. He wore a leather-billed cap of faded blue and in his mouth was a thick cigarette.

“What?” said Milford.

“I said you need any help with them buttons, ‘cause I see ya strugglin’ there.”

“What? No. I don’t need any help.”

“You look like you need help.”

The top of the little man’s cap only came up as high as Milford’s hip, and Milford himself was not even quite medium height.

“I don’t need help.”

“Look, on account of my deprivation in the heighth department I could not help but notice your difficulty. I meant no disrespect.”

“I don’t need or want help, but thank you for offering.”

“Suit yourself, pal.”

The man had been urinating through all this, Milford could tell because of the hissing and splashing sound, even if he kept his eyes steadfastly away from looking at the source of the sound.

At last he got one button free, and now he set to work on the next one. Damn his uncoöperative fingers! And damn these buttons. If he ever made it home alive he would donate all his trousers to Goodwill and specifically ask his mother to take him shopping for pants with zippers!

“Ah, shit,” said the little man. “Ah shit. Ain’t nothin’ like a good whiz, is there?”

Milford got the second button undone. One more should do the trick.

“I got a bad habit,” the little man went on. “I like to sit at the bar and drink ale, but what I don’t like is to get up and go to the gents, on accounta that takes away from the time I could be drinkin’ ale, so what I always do, I wait until I’ve had like a baker’s dozen glasses, until my bladder is like to burst right there at the bar and I uncontrollably piss meself, but just before that can happen, and only just right before, I finally reluctantly climb down from my stool and head for the jakes, and then when I get here it’s like this, and I’m peein’ for a good ten minutes straight like a draft horse. By the way, wow. I said wow, buddy. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you,” said Milford, who had finally unbuttoned that third button and freed what might be called his manhood, were he a man and not what he was, which was what? What his mother called him, a pathetic excuse for a specimen of a man and a disgrace to both proud family lines.

“I mean, Jesus, pal, did you just eat an ounce of Spanish fly, or what? ‘Cause that is some boner you got goin’ on there.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but, no, I did not eat an ounce of Spanish fly, but I did eat a handful of strange mushrooms and I think that they are the cause of this, um, this –”

“So it ain’t just your way of saying you wanta be friendly.”

“No! It was these mushrooms, and then I met this woman here –”

“Who? Maybe I know her.”

“She said she was Louisa May Alcott.”

“Oh, Lou. Well, she is a hot tamale, that Lou. You gonna give her the old you-know-what?”

“Listen, sir, I wish you would leave me alone. All I want to do is to, to make this go away.”

“So you gonna burp the worm or should I say boa constrictor right here, standing at the pisser?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. We were walking down the corridor –”

“You and Lou?”

“Yes, Miss Alcott and I, and I was having the utmost difficulty walking –”

“I can see why.”

“– and I saw the “POINTERS” sign and on impulse I told her I had to come in here, and now I’m beginning to regret doing so.”

“Y’know the Bible says it’s a sin to spill your seed on the ground. Or in a urinal.”

“I don’t care about the Bible, but now I feel so self-conscious I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Did you try thinking about baseball?”

“No. I don’t care about baseball.”

“Try to think about your mother.”

“Oh, God, no, I can’t bear to think about my mother.”


“But I can’t stand my mother.”

“All the better. Think about her. What’s her name?”

“Mrs. Milford.”

“Is that what you call her? Mrs. Milford?”

“No, I call her Mother.”

“Tell me about her.”

“She is a harridan, a harpy, a soul destroyer, and all she does is criticize me. And all I want is for her to hurry up and have a fatal heart attack so I can have all her money and the house, but knowing her she will outlive me just to spite me.”

“Hey, buddy, guess what?”


At last the little man had stopped urinating, and now he was buttoning up his own fly.

“Take a look at your johnson.”

Milford looked down, and at last his erection had subsided.

“Oh,” he said. “Thank God!”

“Don’t thank God,” said the little man. “Thank your mother. Go on, put that thing away unless you got to pee.”

“No, I don’t think I have to pee, actually.”

“Then pack it away and button it up.”

“I have to thank you, sir.”

“They call me Shorty,” said the man. “On accounta my heighth. Or lack thereof.”

“Thank you, Shorty.”

“Hey, you two,” said a voice behind them, “Mutt and Jeff, whyn’tcha stop your yapping and get a room if you’re done with them urinals.”

“Ah, wait your turn, ya big bum,” said Shorty over his shoulder. And he turned to Milford. “Come on, fella, I’ll buy you a glass of ale.”

Milford was on the verge of saying he didn’t drink, but he let it go. What did it matter? What did anything matter? First he must get out of this men’s room, and then let the Devil or God himself take the hindmost.

Shorty waited, seemingly patiently, smoking his fat cigarette and watching as Milford struggled again with the sturdy stamped-brass buttons of his fly.

{Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, tastefully illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 14, 2023



Inside the “POINTERS” room was a mass of milling men who looked like monsters or perhaps they were monsters who looked like men, all of them smoking, chatting and laughing, and as the door closed itself behind Milford they all turned as one to stare at him, and a great silence fell.

One of them came up to him through the miasma of burnt tobacco and marijuana, of urine and fecal gases, a small man with a big cigar and a big beard and a string necktie and cowboy hat.

“Ain’t seen you in here before, buddy. What’s your moniker?”

“Milford,” said Milford.

“That’s quite a hog’s leg you got sprouting under your peacoat there, Gilbert.”

“My name is Milford, not Gilbert.”

“Don’t change the subject. What’s up with that throbbing bulge? You looking for action?”

Milford gripped the hems of his peacoat with both hands, pulling them down, and leaning forward as he did so, trying in vain to hide the thing that seemed likely to burst from his dungarees.

“Well, you should be glad to know that we are not puritans hereabouts,” said the little man. “I’m sure there are a few fellas in here that could help you out, free, gratis and for nothing.”

“What’s his name?” said another man who loomed up out of the mob. He was big and fat, and like the little man he wore an old-fashioned suit, but with a foulard tie and a top hat, and with a cigarette in a black holder sticking out of his teeth.

“Says his name’s Bilford, and he’s looking for some easy action.”

“Hey, Bilford,” said the big fat guy, “you can pull that peacoat down all you want, but you still ain’t hiding what you got down there. And why hide it? Be proud, boy!”

“Look,” said Milford, “I’m only going to say this once, or rather, once more. My name is Milford.”

“Christ, pal, take it easy,” said the fat man.

“Yeah, jeeze,” said the little man. “We’re only trying to be friendly here, guy.”

“I’m just tired of everybody not getting my name right,” said Milford.

Another man emerged, this one more of medium height, but a little fat, with a pipe in his hand and a derby cocked back on his head.

“You know, fella,” said this new guy, “just my two cents, but what you said right there, that might just say more about you than about your interlocutors.”

“Oh, fuck off,” said Milford. “Look, all I want is to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh, go to the bathroom,” said the little man. “Is that what they’re calling it now?”

“That ain’t what they called it in my day,” said the big man.

“Nor in mine,” said the medium fat guy. “We used to call it terlet trottin’!”

“Outhouse parties is what we called ‘em back in Nebrasky,” said the little guy.

“Gentlemen’s room jollies back when I was a lad,” said the big fat guy.

The three men all guffawed, and the rest of the men in the room had resumed their laughing and shouting.

“Look,” said Milford, “please don’t take this personally, but I wish you would all just get out of my way.”

“Wow,” said the little man.

“Yeah, wow,” said the big guy.

“Wow indeed,” said the medium guy. “Excuse us for breathing.”

“I need to use one of the stalls,” said Milford.

“Well, I’m sorry,” said the little guy. “Pilford, or whatever your name is. But both stalls are occupied. One by Mr. Hawthorne and one by Mr. Cooper, and if I know them guys you’re gonna have to wait a while.”

“Yeah,” said the medium guy. “I seen Hawthorne bring his copy of The Faerie Queene in there with him, and Cooper had the whole of last Sunday’s Federal-Democrat with him, and I know for a fact he likes to do the crossword puzzle in there.”

“The Times puzzle is a lot more challenging,” said the little man.

“He don’t like the Times,” said the medium guy. “On accounta the Times don’t got funnies.”

“He likes the funnies,” said the big fat guy. “Says they’re the great new modern art form.”

“All right,” said Milford, “look, I’ll just use a urinal then, okay? Is that all right?”

“Of course it’s all right,” said the little man. “’Ceptin’ –” he glanced over his shoulder, “they’s both occupied as well at present.”

For the second time that night, but he felt it wouldn’t be the last, Milford began to sob, starting slowly with steady shallow gasps which quickly became more frequent and heavy, and then he was shaking, tears streaming from his eyes, still gripping the hems of his peacoat in both hands, his so-called organ of masculinity still obliviously engorged.

“Jeeze, fella,” said the little man.

“Yeah, jeeze,” said the medium man.

“Fuckin' hell,” said the big fat man. “Get a grip on yourself, kid.”

“Yeah,” said the little guy, “and if he don’t get a grip on hisself they’s plenty others in here will, ha ha.”

“Aw, leave the lad alone,” said the medium guy. “C’mere, Hereford, I’ll help ya out.”

The medium fat guy grabbed Milford’s arm and pulled him past the other two and through the throng of other monstrous men to where there were two urinals against a smoke-stained tile wall, both of them occupied, but at least there didn’t seem to be a queue.

“Now you just wait right here, young fella,” said the medium fat guy. “My name’s Birkenstock. Lucullus P. Birkenstock. Don’t suppose that name means nothing to you.”

“No,” gasped Milford, trying to hold back his tears and his gasping sobs. “I’m sorry. Should I know who you are?”

“Don’t know why you should, young fella. Don’t blame you, neither. Yes, I have accepted my lot of eternal obscurity. But, among those who know, I mean, the true cognoscenti, I am recognized as one of the top ten authors in American literature. Maybe top twenty, whatever.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not as well read as I should be.”

“You’re excused, my boy, because after all my masterwork received only a modest printing, and only the one printing, of twenty-five copies, but each one was signed personally by yours truly.”

“So it was a limited edition.”

“Yes, you might say that. Would you like to see a copy?”


The man reached into his old-fashioned suit and brought out a small leather-bound book.

“Here ya go, pal. Take a dekko.”

Milford at last let go of the hems of his peacoat, and took the little book. The cover was blank. He opened it, and inside was only one blank page, at the top of which was handwritten, Best regards, Lucullus P. Birkenstock. Milford turned the page and the reverse side was completely blank.

“This is it?” said Milford. “One page, blank?”

“Technically two pages,” said the man, “and not completely blank. You see my inscription there.”


“What do you think?”

“I think you’re insane.”

“And you’re not the first to think that, Milborn. But what you see is the distillation of what was once a twelve-hundred page three-volume novel, a great sprawling but finely-etched epic of American life, limned in prose at once muscular and poetic, but I kept boiling it down, boiling it down, to the absolute essential, not a wasted word, yes sir, it took me nigh on to fifteen years of hard labor and midnight lucubrations, all the while I was working as a scribe in a dockside counting house, but at last I got it down to its pure refined core of beauty, and that’s what you hold in your meat hooks right there.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “That’s great, Mister, uh –”

“Lucullus P. Birkenstock, just like it says there on the first page, which also serves as the frontispiece you might say. But call me Lucullus.”

“Well, this is great, Lucullus,” said Milford. “Here.” And he closed the book and proffered it to Lucullus P. Birkenstock.

“You can keep it,” said the man.

“I couldn’t,” said Milford. “Not if there were only twenty-five copies printed.”

“I still got a few other author’s copies. Go ahead, keep it.”

“But it must be very valuable.”

“What’s money? You gonna take all your money with you when you croak? The answer to that is no, you ain’t going to.”

“Well, only if you insist.”

“I insist.”

“Okay,” said Milford, “thank you, Mister –”


“Thanks, Lucullus.”

“Keep it safe now. Stick it in the pocket of your peacoat.”

“Okay, I will,” said Milford, and he shoved the little book into the left-hand pocket of his coat.

“All right, looks like you got a pisser free there, lad, better grab it before one of these other guys do.”

True enough a burly fellow had just depressed the flush handle of one of the two urinals.

“Well, thanks, again, Lucullus,” said Milford.

“Don’t mention it, and look, after you’ve had time to read my book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.”


“I mean, no pressure, but when you get time.”


“It shouldn’t take you long. Most people say they can read it in one sitting.”


“Now go,” said Lucullus P. Birkenstock. “Do what you got to do.”

“All right,” said Milford, and he stepped forward to the urinal. 

Now came the hard part.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 7, 2023


“Your cheek feels so warm,” said Lou, “and rather moist as well. I hope you’re not feeling ill.”

“Um, uh,” said Milford, realizing that his erection was growing exponentially with each passing moment, not that he knew what exponentially meant.

“Perhaps it is all the alcohol and marijuana and hashish and the Indians’ sacred mushrooms you said you consumed this evening?”

“Um, uh,” repeated Milford.

“You boys, always trying to experience so much.”

Milford wished she would take her hand away from his cheek, and he also wished she wouldn’t.

“I, uh, I –”

“Well, no matter, shall we go and have that little drink now?”

“Okay,” Milford managed to say.

“Come then.” At last she took her hand away from his cheek, flicking away a bead of his sweat, and she stepped to his side and put her arm in his. “Shall we go to the back room? It’s slightly more intime there, and also they have a swell little combo you might like, or is ‘dig’ the au courant term?”

She tugged on his arm.

“Wait,” said Milford.

“What ever for?”

“Listen, Miss –”

“Oh do call me Lou.”

“Listen, Lou, this is very difficult for me to say –”

He took a drag of his Husky Boy but now it tasted of burnt toast and ashes, and he let the cigarette fall to the floor.

“Oh, dear,” said Lou. “I think I know what you’re going to say.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I should have known, when you said that Walt brought you in here.”

“Known what?”

“That you are a catamite. But, look, Milford, no judgment on my part, I assure you.”

“But I am not a catamite.”

“There’s no shame in it, dear boy. You can’t help it.”

“But I am not ashamed.”

“As well you shouldn’t be. Many of our finest poets have been aficionados of homosexual lust.”

“But I am not homosexual.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“There’s no problem,” lied Milford.

“Great, let’s shake a leg then.”

“Shake a leg?”

“Yes, let’s go grab a small table and have a nice little chinwag. I want to hear all about your hopes and dreams.”

“Okay, there is one little problem.”

“You were wounded in the war?”

“What? No, I’ve never been in a war. Except the internal kind.”

“Perhaps like Mr. James you had a bicycle accident.”

“No, it’s not that either.”

“Then let’s go, buddy.”

She tugged on his arm again.

“Wait, please, Miss –”

“Lou. Just Lou, tout simplement, it’s what all my chums call me.”

“Listen, Lou, I’m not sure if I can walk.”

“What? An attack of hysterical paralysis?”

“No, it’s just –”

Without meaning to, Milford glanced down the front of his torso, just to see if the thing still growing between his legs was pushing up visibly against the hems of his peacoat, and, yes, he was sure that it was, and so he bent forward in an involuntary attempt to disguise the protuberance.

“Now what’s the matter?” said Louisa May Alcott. “Do you have a stomach cramp?”


“An attack of colitis?”


“Oh, dear, do you know what I think it is? You’re simply suffering heatstroke wearing that heavy peacoat in this crowded stuffy place. Here, let me help you.”

She came around to the front of Milford, and, putting her Lucky Strike between her lips, she began to unbutton Milford’s coat.

“Oh, no,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Don’t be foolish. Believe me, I as a woman know that sometimes we needs must sacrifice fashion for comfort. Here we go, just one more button, and there we are.” She took the cigarette from her mouth, and then said, “Oh. Oh my. Oh my indeed.”

“I’m sorry,” said Milford. “I am so embarrassed.”

“Is that for me?”
“I, uh, well –”

“Or is it rather a policeman’s nightstick you keep down your trousers in case you are accosted by thugs on the street.”

“Um, no –”

“I suppose I should be flattered.”

“I will go now.”

“You will not.”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t.”

“This has never happened to me before.”

“I somehow doubt that. I think I should rebutton your coat.”

“Let me do it.”

“No, I quite insist. After all, it was my fault, I suppose, for standing so close to you, and for caressing your boyish cheek.”

She put her Lucky Strike back in her lips and began to button up his coat, starting from the top. When she had buttoned the last button she removed her cigarette and cocked her head, examining.

“Only just barely apparent now I should say, unless you’re looking for it. Do you think you can walk?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, we can’t just stand here all night.”

“I don’t mind,” said Milford.

“Well, I do. Look, it might be best if you do bend forward just a teeny bit.”


Milford bent forward.

“Not too much. You look like Quasimodo all doubled over like that, and you’ll only draw more attention to yourself.”

Milford straightened up slightly.

“Right,” she said. “That will have to do. Now take my arm.”

She came around to his side, and as Milford made no move to take her arm, she took his.

“Are you ready?” she said.

“I suppose I’m as ready as I’m likely to be in the near future.”

“Very well,” she said. “Do you think you can take a step.”

“A small step maybe.”

“All right. I shall guide you.”

She tugged on his arm, and awkwardly they moved away from the cigarette machine, and past the jukebox, shuffling slowly.

“Can’t you walk any faster than that?” she whispered into his ear.

“Possibly,” said Milford.

“Because you’ll only invite more scrutiny by dragging along like a hundred-year-old man on the verge of death.”

“I’m trying.”

“Do try harder, dear Milford.”

He tried harder, but the very word harder made him feel harder down there.

Why must life always be so hard? he thought, as he limped along, Lou’s arm in his, as she led him toward a narrow hallway at the rear of the barroom. And then he thought, I must not think the word hard. I must think of something else. But of what? There was nothing else, only this monstrous appendage pulsing and seemingly still growing in his dungarees. Perhaps it would stop growing if she would let go of his arm, but if she did let go, he felt as if he would fall backwards onto the sawdust-and-cigarette-strewn floorboards, immobilized like a turtle on its back, and then horrifyingly he felt as if his entire being was now this growing pulsating thing.

“Are you quite all right?” asked Lou’s kind voice.

“Yes,” Milford’s voice said. “I’ll be all right.”

But he was not all right.

He had become a gigantic male organ of procreation and micturition. Yes, Gregor Samsa had nothing on him. And the horror of it all was that he seemed yet to be growing, pulsing and throbbing, and he knew the next stage would be the explosion of his head, and all the pent-up frustration of his life would be released and with it his self, soon to be splattered up into the vast reaches of interstellar space.

He saw a door to his left and on it was a sign with a picture of a dog and the word POINTERS.

“Excuse me,” said Milford, “but I have to go in here.”

“Oh,” said Lou. “I see. Well, when you’re finished just come on back to the back room and find me. We have ever so much to talk about.”


“Shall I order you a drink?”


“What would you like?”

“I don’t care. Whatever you’re having.”

“Splendid. Sherry it is then!”

Without another word Milford pushed open the door and went in before he could erupt like a human Mount Vesuvius.

{Kindly go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, brilliantly illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 30, 2023


“Hey, Lou,” yelled a man who was leaning over the jukebox next to the cigarette machine, “whaddya wanta hear, ‘Oh Ma, Oh Ma, I’m Feelin’ So Bad I Just Wanta Die’ by Big Biscuit Bob, or ‘Shake That Thang’ by the Stumptown Stompers?” 

“I assure you it’s a matter of complete indifference to me, Sam,” said the lady called Lou.

“Guess I’ll go with the Stumptown Stompers, then,” said the man, and he punched a couple of buttons. He straightened up and took a cigar out of his mouth. He wore a three-piece white suit and he looked like Mark Twain. “Who’s your new boyfriend?”

“Sam, this is Milford,” said Lou. “Milford, Sam.”

The Sam guy extended his hand and Milford took it, after transferring his pack of cigarettes and matches from his right hand to his left.

“Pleased to meet you, uh –”

“I see you are a seafaring chap,” said Sam. “Or are you rather, as I once was, and in a sense always shall be, a river boat man?”

“I am neither,” said Milford.

Sam released Milford’s hand. Fortunately for Milford he hadn’t been one of these guys who made every handshake a test of masculine manual strength, tests which Milford invariably lost.

“An apprentice stevedore then?”

“No, not that either,” said Milford.

“It did seem a little odd to me if you were,” said the man. “Because, and I hope you will pardon my candor, but you seem just a tad underdeveloped physically for even a tyro member of that hearty community.”

“Let it rest, Sam,” said Lou. “Milford is a poet.”

“Oh, so that’s why you dress like a longshoreman?”

“Yes,” admitted Milford.

“I should have known by the silky softness of the palm of your hand. Like unto a baby’s bottom.”

“Um -”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being a poet.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Milford.

“But might I suggest a few years on the mighty Mississippi, or perhaps prospecting for gold in the Yukon, or logging in the great redwood forests of the westerly portions of this proud land of liberty? Just to give you a wider and more expansive knowledge of life?”

“Sam, leave the poor guy alone,” said Lou.

“I’m only trying to be helpful,” said Sam. “You don’t mind, do you, Mimson?”

“My name’s not Mimson,” said Milford. “It’s Milford, and, to be honest, I do mind. I’m tired of people telling me what I should do. Do you want to know what I really think I should do?”

“Yes, I do actually,” said the man called Sam.

“I think I should just do whatever I feel like doing, even if it’s foolish, like dressing like a dockworker, or smoking English cigarettes, or drinking myself senseless, and I think I should ignore all so-called good advice, and if anyone tries to give it to me I should say to them, politely as I can manage, ‘Fuck off.’”

“Wow,” said Sam.

“And so I say to you,” said Milford, “fuck off.”

“Wow again,” said Sam, and he turned to Lou. “Hey, Lou, I don’t know where you found this boy, but I like him.”

“I found him right here at the cigarette machine,” said Lou.

Milford was now pulling the little ribbon off his pack of cigarettes, and attempting to tear off the cellophane. His fingers were trembling, despite or because of the fact that they felt like uncooked breakfast sausages.

“You need some help with them cigarettes, lad?” said Sam.

“No thank you,” said Milford.

“I know, I know, you gotta do it yourself, I can ‘dig it’ as you young folk say. I see you’re smoking Husky Boys. Was that because they don’t carry English cigarettes in that machine?”

“Yes,” said Milford, “but, also, I decided tonight that I would no longer smoke English cigarettes, and in fact I might even stop dressing this way.”

“But I like the way you dress.”

“Sam,” said Lou, “just leave the guy alone, okay?”

“I don’t mean no harm,” said Sam. “I like young people. Especially foolish young people. Didn’t I write a couple of classic novels about foolish young rapscallions?”

“Way to blow your own horn, Sam.”

“Guilty as charged,” said Sam.

Milford had finally got the pack opened and a cigarette in his mouth. Quick as lightning, Sam pulled out a box of Blue Tip kitchen matches, opened it, took out a match, struck it, and lighted Milford’s Husky Boy.

“Thank you,” said Milford, inhaling deeply, and admitting to himself as he did so that these Husky Boys were a much better smoke than Woodbines.

“Yes sir, I like you, kid,” said Sam, tossing the match to the floor. “You got sand. I won’t say you remind me of me as a young feller, because you might take that as an insult or as a sort of thinly disguised braggadocio on my part. But I like you. Tell me, are you a good poet?”

“No,” said Milford, “I have never written a single decent line of poetry. But I hope to, someday.”

“And I wish you the best of luck, Bedford.”

“Milford, actually, but, thank you, I suspect I will need all the luck I can get.”

“But, really,” said Sam, “luck only comes into play when it comes to the success of a writing career. As for the quality qua ‘quality’ of writing, the only luck that matters is that which you’re born with, in other words: talent. Which you either got or you don’t. And if you don’t got it there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”

“Thank you for the encouraging words,” said Milford.

“You are quite welcome, Merman.”

“Sam,” said Lou, “the guy told you, his name is Milford.”

“Say it again.”


“Okay, I’ll try to remember that. And I apologize. Would you two care to join me at my table for a grog or three or four?”

“Maybe later,” said Lou. “We were just going to have a quiet drink à deux.”

“Oh, okay, I get it,” said Sam. He turned to Milford. “You take good care of this lady, lad.”

“I don’t think she needs me to take care of her,” said Milford.

’A hit, a very palpable hit,’” said Sam, “if I may quote the Bawdy Bard. But seriously, be nice to her. If you don’t I’m gonna come looking for you.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” said Milford. “But in the back of my mind. Way back.”

“Ha ha,” said Sam, and he turned to Lou again. “You might have a winner here, Lou.”

“I’m not looking for a winner, Sam,” said Lou. “I’m just looking for someone who won’t bore me to tears for starters.”

“Okay, I can take a hint,” said Sam. “Nice meeting you, Efrem. Lou, you know I love you and I always shall. And, look, if you two care to join me at my table later, I should be only too delighted. Ta for now.”

And the man in the white suit turned and went away.

“Sorry about that,” said Lou. “This is the trouble with these so-called literary lions. They start believing their own legends.”

She stepped close to him, holding her cigarette out to one side so as not to burn him. Milford removed his own Husky Boy from his lips because she was standing so close to him. The tips of her bosom were now touching the double breast of his pea coat. It occurred to him that this was the closest a female human being had ever stood to him, barring members of his own family, and even those occurrences had been rare, limited to birthdays and perhaps Christmas after eggnogs and port.

Lou touched his face with her fingers.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

The matter was that Milford now realized he was possessed of an erection. It felt enormous, throbbing and pulsing against the stout material of his dungarees.

It felt enormous for him, anyway.

{Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Saturday, November 25, 2023

"Husky Boy"

At last Milford came to the cigarette machine. It stood before him, squat and heavy and powerful, the oblong window at its top declaring CIGARETTES in glowing scarlet script on a gold background. Yes, ecstasy awaited and it was long overdue. But what brand should he choose? Needless to say the machine did not carry his usual preference, Woodbines, but no matter, This is the new me, thought Milford, no more English cigarettes that he could only find in better-stocked tobacco shops or at hotel counters catering to the foreigner trade, no, from now on he would smoke good sturdy American cigarettes!

Camels, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, Philip Morris, all the usual, but what was this? Husky Boy? He had never heard of the brand, but it looked intriguing in the little brightly lit display panel, with a painting of the smiling face of a chubby lad with a lighted cigarette in his smiling or grimacing lips. Husky Boy! This would be his new smoke of choice!

The little tag above the display picture read 25¢. A cheap price to pay for twenty sacred cylinders of satisfaction!  

Milford dug his hand into the right pocket of his dungarees, and his old Boy Scout wallet was in there, but no coins whatever. He tried his left pocket, but all that was in there was one of the monogrammed handkerchiefs his mother bought for him by the dozen at Brooks, and which came in so handy during his nightly bouts of self-abuse. He remembered the change pocket above his right pocket and stuck his thumb in there, but all he came up with was a ticket stub for a movie: Raise High the Topsail, Lads!, which he had seen at the Thalia last week when he was thinking of chucking it all and signing up for the merchant marine. He tossed the stub away. Who wanted to mop decks all day in some uncomfortable freighter, especially when the one time he had been at sea (a fishing excursion on his Uncle Bert’s Chris-Craft on Long Island Sound) he had gotten violently seasick?

He investigated his dungarees pockets again, and this time he even checked the back pockets. Then he dug his fingers into the pockets of his pea coat, the two exterior ones and the one on the inside: except for lint, and, in the right-hand side pocket, that copy of Leaves of Grass which its soi-disant author had given him, and which he had totally forgotten about, they were all empty. 

Yes, empty, like my life, thought Milford.

There was nothing for it, he would have to ask the bartender for change, and the thought of doing this filled him with a weariness approaching despair. He would have to squeeze into a space at that crowded bar, raise his hand, try to catch the bartender’s attention. The very thought made him want to cry.

And then he did begin to cry, standing there before the impassive machine. Harsh breaths escaped from his lips in gasps, and hot tears emerged from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. And no one cared. No one cared that he had not a lousy twenty-five cents in change for a pack of Husky Boys!

“Hey, buddy, you gonna buy some cigs or are you just gonna stand there and think about it.”

A woman was standing next to him, dark hair and dark eyes, an old-fashioned dress of blue trimmed in white and red.

“I, I, um, I don’t have a quarter,” sobbed Milford, “and all I want, all I want, it’s just, just a pack of cigarettes, but –”

“Gee, are you crying?” said the woman.

“Yes,” said Milford.

“You’re crying because you don’t have a quarter for a pack of cigarettes?”

Milford snuffled, pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed his face and eyes.

“It’s just, I really just wanted a pack of cigarettes.” He tried to get control of himself. “I have money, but I don’t have any small change –”

“You do realize you can ask the bartender for change, right?”

“Yes, I do realize that,” said Milford, trying not to blubber, “but the very thought of asking him, or trying to ask him, fills me with existential dread.”

“So you’re a sensitive kind of guy.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Let me guess, you’re a poet.”

“Yes.” Milford stuck the sodden handkerchief back in his dungarees. “But I am a bad poet.”

“How did you get in here anyway?”

“Walt Whitman brought me here.”

“Oh, okay, well, that explains a lot. So are you a cabin boy as well as a bad poet?”

“No, just a bad poet. I only dress this way out of affectation.”

“I see. What’s your name?”

“If I tell you my name, will you try to remember it, and not call me something else?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Milford. Not Mumford, or Redburn, or Mervyn, or Melvin, but Milford.”

“Milford. That’s a funny name.”

“It’s my surname, but I prefer it to my first name.”

“What’s that?”


“I see. Do you have a middle name, or a confirmation name?”

“My middle hame is Crackstone and my confirmation name is Aloysius.”

“Well, I see why you like to go by, what is it, Millstone?”

“It’s Milford. Milford.”



“My name’s Louisa. Louisa May Alcott.”


“Call me Lou.”

“All right.”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do, Milford. It is Milford, right?”

“Yes, and thank you.”

“Thank me for what?”

“For not calling me Melvoin, or Mumphrey, or –”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do, Murphy –”


“Just kidding. Tell you what I’m gonna do, Milford, I’m gonna spot you to a pack of smokes.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t!”

“Nonsense, what’s a quarter?”

“But it’s, it’s the principle of the thing. You don’t even know me.”

“Listen, I’m going to buy you a pack of cigarettes and that’s the end of it. Or maybe it won’t be the end of it. Maybe someday you’ll do someone a favor.” She paused, apparently taking note of the expression on Milford’s face. “What?”

“I have never done anyone a favor in my life,” said Milford.

“Well, maybe now you will.” She had taken a small embroidered purse from a pocket of her dress, and now she opened it and took out a quarter. She dropped the quarter into the slot in the machine. “What kind of cigarettes do you want?”

“I was thinking of trying the Husky Boys.”

Husky Boys. Okay –”

She pulled the handle under the Husky Boy display, and sure enough a pack of cigarettes plopped down into the rectangular mouth at the bottom, along with a book of paper matches.

“Take them, husky boy,” she said.

Milford bent over and picked up the cigarettes and matches.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Smoke them in good health, Milford.”

“And thank you for remembering my name, Miss –”

“Lou. Call me Lou.”

“Thank you, Lou. I will always remember this act of kindness.”

“And now, if I may –”

She took another quarter from her purse, put the purse back into her pocket, and then inserted the quarter into the coin slot.

She pulled a handle, and a pack of Lucky Strikes fell down into the opening, along with its accompanying book of matches.

She picked up the cigarettes and matches, rapped the pack against the side of her hand.

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, Milford.”

Milford’s tears had stopped by now, and he wondered if this could be the beginnings of love. Sure, she was older, but perhaps an older woman was just what he needed. Someone who could not only show him the ropes, but who would do so in a kindly and patient fashion.

“I wonder,” he said, still sniffling, but only just slightly, “if it is not too forward of me, if you would allow me to buy you a drink, Miss –”

“Lou, just call me Lou.”

“Lou, then, I mean, if you would like a drink, but only if you want one, you see, I myself don’t drink alcohol, because I am an alcoholic, although somehow I did wind up having a few drinks tonight, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, and come to think of it, I also inadvertently smoked marijuana, and hashish, and, oh, I almost forgot, I ate some mushrooms which I now realize are the intoxicating kind that certain Indian tribes eat as part of their religious ceremonies, and maybe all of the above explains why I am babbling quite uncontrollably now, I mean, in addition to the fact that I am incurably neurotic, but.”

“But what?”

“But would you like a drink?”

“Sure, Marvin,” she said, having lighted a Lucky Strike and tossed the match to the floor. “Okay, take it easy, pal, don’t start crying again. Milford, right?”

“Yes,” said Milford, holding back a tidal wave of tears, and emitting a gasp, of relief, and joy.

“Yes,” he said.

{Kindly go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version of this, our very special fourth-annversary episode, in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, November 16, 2023


The door closed behind them, the place was full of people shouting and laughing at a long bar to the right and at half a dozen booths opposite, the air was thick with smoke and pulsing with loud jukebox music, and a fat bald man in an old-fashioned three-piece tweed suit came up with a cigar in his hand.

“My dear Walt, not another one of your cabin boy friends?”

“My dear Henry,” said Walt, “my young friend only looks like a cabin boy, but he is in fact a poet.”

The fat man looked at Milford.

“Indeed?” he said.

“Indeed he is, and a damn fine one he is,” said Walt, even though he hadn’t read a word of Milford’s poetry, which was perhaps just as well, thought Milford.

“Mitford,” said Walt, “meet my good friend Henry.”

“Pleased to meet you, Medford,” said Henry, but without offering his hand.

“My name isn’t Medford,” said Milford.

“It’s Midford,” said Walt.

“No, it’s not Mitford, or Midford either,” said Milford. “It’s Milford. Milford. My name is Milford, okay?” He turned to the big poet. ”I’m sorry, Mr. Whitman, but my name is Milford.”

“Say it again,” said Walt.



“Oh, my God,” said Milford.

“So your name is, what, Mildred?” said or shouted the fat man over the music and the babble. “That’s an odd name for a fellow. But then in England where I lived for many years – perhaps you can tell by my supposedly trans-Atlantic accent – one finds a multitude of chaps with names like Evelyn and Aubrey, so, hey, why not Mildred? An old family name I suppose?”

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford.

“Let me get you boys a libation,” said Henry.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Walt. “I was just telling Wilbert about the spiced hot grog here.”

“Fuck that shit,” said Henry. “That’s for the tourist trade. How about a nice single malt Speyside aged twenty years in a fifty-year-old Amontillado cask?”

“I think Milberg really wanted to try the grog though,” said Walt.

“What?” said Milford.

“Oh, I get it, because it’s so cold and snowy out,” said Henry, and he brushed some snow off of the shoulder of Milford’s pea coat. “Righto, sure, a little grog to warm you fellows up, and then maybe the Speyside. Come on over to the bar.”

He grabbed Milford’s arm and pulled him over to the end of the bar.

“So did your ship just come in?”

“What ship?” said Milford.

“The ship you’re a cabin boy on.”

“I’m not a cabin boy.”

They were standing at the end of the bar where the counter curved into the wall.

“Jack!” yelled Henry to the bartender. “Two grogs and another Speyside pour moi!”

Henry stood to Milford’s left, and Walt to his right. They had him boxed in, but he wondered if he should just try to make a run for it anyway.

“I thought about setting off to sea when I was a young fellow,” said Henry. “But that’s all I did, think about it. You see, at bottom, I am a man who enjoys my creature comforts. How do you like it, sailing the high seas, doing a man’s job, or at least a boy’s job. Do you intend to continue with the maritime life? Perhaps someday to be master of your own ship?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Milford. “I don’t even like the ocean.”

“If you don’t like the ocean why are you a cabin boy?”

“Henry!” shouted Walt.

“What?” said Henry.

“I just told you that Redburn is not a cabin boy, he’s a poet.”

“Oh, my mistake,” said Henry. “Ah, the libations! Thank you, Jack. Lift up that cup, my lad.”

“What’s in it?” said Milford.

A cup or mug made out of metal was on the bar in front of Milford, and the brown liquid in it gave off tendrils of steam.

“Our own recipe,” said the fat man. “It’ll warm you right up.”

“Go ahead, Bedford,” said Walt. “Raise your cup, lad, smell it, appreciate the nose.”

Milford lifted the cup with both hands and smelled. It did smell good, and the cup warmed his cold hands. He had forgotten to wear gloves this snowy night which seemed to have begun six or eight months ago.

“Take a sip, Merbert,” said Walt.

Milford took a sip. The liquid was hot, fragrant, sweet.

“What do you think?” said Henry.

“It’s not bad,” said Milford.

“Not bad, he says,” said Henry.

“Thank you,” said Milford, remembering how he was raised.

“Take another sip,” said Henry.

Milford took another sip.

“Can you pick up the star anise?” said Henry. “To me that’s the special ingredient. Along with the clove and cinnamon, of course, and the blackstrap molasses, the molasses is essential.”

“And the rum, ha ha,” said Walt.

“Yes, the rum,” said Henry, “but, you see, Pilford, this is not that Mr. Boston swill, oh no, it’s good dark rich and fragrant Jamaican rum, which I get special from a purveyor to the Royal Navy. Great twenty-gallon oaken kegs of the stuff.”

“Did you say rum?” said Milford.

“Yes, but splendid Jamaican rum, Royal Navy issue.”

“It’s good rum,” said Walt. “Them Limeys know their rum.”

Milford sighed, realizing that even though he had sighed more than twelve thousand times this day that this was the first time he had sighed in this particular place.

“What’s the matter?” said Henry. “You don’t like it? I can get you a Speyside if you’d prefer. Walt will finish your grog. Won’t you, Walt?”

“Sure I will,” said Walt. “But try another sip first, Mumphrey, it might have to grow on you.”

“Okay, please try to listen, Mr. Whitman,” said Milford. “I told you before, I am an alcoholic. I don’t drink.”

“You did? You don’t?”

“What did he say?” said Henry.

“He said he doesn’t drink,” said Walt.

“He just did drink,” said Henry. “Look, Mifford, try just one more sip, and if you really don’t like it you can try the Speyside.”

Milford suddenly felt as if his brain was expanding, like a balloon made of dreams, and the balloon was filling up this entire barroom and everything and everyone in it. So this was how it ended. A terminal bout of insanity with a couple of old fools in some crowded basement taproom. And as if it had a mad mind of its own, his hand lifted the cup to his lips, it poured the steaming liquid into his mouth and he swallowed, gulping, the hot spiced rum coursing down his throat and into his stomach.

Milford lowered the emptied cup to the bar top, and his brain subsided, sucking itself back inside his skull under his newsboy’s cap, and he exhaled a great hot breath into the smoky air.

“There’s a good fellow!” said Henry.

“Told you he was a poet, Henry,” said Walt.

“I should love to read your verse, sir,” said Henry.

Milford looked at the man, at his fat rubicund face, his bloodshot glazed blue eyes. He had his chubby hand on Milford’s left arm, and Milford realized that Walt’s great hand was on his right shoulder. He probably couldn’t escape even if he wanted to. And did he want to? Yes, but where to? Only to some other place he would want to escape from.

And suddenly Milford realized that his sentience was somehow returning, despite the mushrooms, the marijuana, the hashish, and now the grog – that his thusness was now at the forefront of his consciousness.

Gazing past the faces at the bar he saw the twinkling lights of the jukebox at the far wall, and next to it the sturdy impassive robot of a cigarette machine.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Where are you going?” said Henry.

“I’m just going to get some cigarettes.”

“Come right back,” said Walt.

“Sure,” said Milford.

And he pulled his arm away from Henry’s hand, ducked his shoulder from under Walt’s hand and stepped away, turning hard around the end of the bar like a ship rounding the Horn.

“Nice kid,” said Henry.

“I like him,” said Walt. “Funny kid, but I like him.”

Milford floated through the smoky air, past the shouting and laughing people, mostly men but some women. Some of the faces looked familiar, but didn’t all human faces look familiar?

Up ahead was the cigarette machine, with its alluring modernistic electric lighting of gold and scarlet and silver, filled with a dozen or more brands of factory-sealed paper-and-tinfoil-and-cellophane packets filled each in their turn with a score of trimly packed tubes of potential ecstasy.

“My Ithaca,” he thought. “If I can buy a pack of cigarettes I will be happy.”

He was wrong of course, and he knew he was wrong, but he didn’t care.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 9, 2023

“Snowfall Over MacDougal Street”

How did it happen? How had it come to this? Did he have no agency at all over his own life?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know. And, no, apparently he had no agency over his own life.

Through the thick falling snow Milford trudged, several paces behind Walt Whitman and Polly Powell walking arm in arm, and he could hear the music of their merry chatter, Whitman’s booming song of a voice, Polly’s lilting counterpoint, and most of what they said was lost in the swirling snowfall, but Milford did make out an occasional word:

“Poetry, the godhead, the wellspring, the angels, the damned, the fierce pulsing blood, the essence…”

But then they had stopped, and Milford almost bumped into Walt Whitman, who was facing and looming over Polly.

“Thank you so much for walking me home, Walter!” trilled Polly.

“It was my pleasure, dearest Polly,” said Walt Whitman.

She opened her purse and brought out a set of keys attached to a rabbit’s foot.

“Um,” said Milford, or at any rate this was the sound that came out of his mouth.

“Oh, and Milford,” said Polly, “thank you for the delightful evening!”

“Uh,” said Milford.

“I should invite you gentlemen in for a nice cup of hot chocolate, but I am suddenly ever so sleepy!”

“Oh, uh,” said Milford.

“Don’t worry about us, Miss Polly,” said Walt. “You just change into your warm flannel nightdress and crawl into bed. But may I make a small suggestion?”

“What is that, dear Walter?”

“Two aspirins, washed down with a glass of water.”

“Two aspirins?”

“No more, no less, but don’t forget to drink a full glass of water.”

“How large a glass?”

“Let us say six ounces.”

“Two aspirin, six ounces of water.”

“You’ll thank me in the morning.”

“I shall thank you now, dear Walter. You are like the kindly uncle I never had!”

“Heh heh, I take that as the highest compliment.”

She was having trouble getting her key in the lock of the entrance door, so Walt took the set of keys from her and opened it for her.

“Thanks again, Uncle Walter!”

“Don’t mention it, Niece Polly,” said Walt, pressing the keys into her white-gloved hand. “Would you like us to accompany you to the door of your flat?”

“Oh, no, I’m certain I can make it from here. I’m only on the second floor!”

“Splendid. Sleep tight now!”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby!”

“Give me a hug, child.”

“Oh, of course!”

Walt put his great arms around her and hugged her, lifting her feet slightly off the tiles of the entranceway. He lowered her down, and she turned to Milford.

“Good night, Milford. Give me a ring and we’ll do it again sometime.”

“Uh,” said Milford.

She turned and went inside, and Walt closed the door after her.

They watched her go through the inside door, stumbling just more than slightly, and then she disappeared off to the right somewhere.

“Well, she seemed nice,” said Walt.

“I don’t have her phone number,” said Milford.

“No matter, if the gods want you to see each other again, it will happen.”

“I know where she works,” said Milford. “She works at this automat in the neighborhood.”

“Swell, problem solved,” said Walt. “Go in there, get yourself a nice cup of joe, a slice of rhubarb pie, chat her up.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll do that.”

“But make sure to get her phone number.”

“I will.”

“In my day we had no telephones. We had to rely on agreed-upon meetings and trysts. ‘Meet me at Bob’s Bowery Bar, five-ish.’ Hope the other person doesn’t forget.”

“Well, I try to stay out of bars.”

“Coffee houses are good.”


“I hope you’re not disappointed.”

“What about?”

“That you didn’t go upstairs with her.”

“Oh, that. Well, she was pretty drunk.”

“To say the least.”

“And I feel somewhat deranged.”

“It’s only the hash, don’t worry about it.”

“But it’s also those mushrooms I ate.”

“Ah, the sacred mushrooms! I wish you had some for me!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“No matter, lad. And now that we’ve gotten Miss Polly safely home, now we can have some good manly fun together.”

“I feel as if my brain is about to burst from my skull. I think I should just go home.”

“Nonsense! You can go home anytime.”

“I just want to get in my bed.”

“The night is young.”

“I’m afraid.”

“We must conquer our fears.”

“I don’t want to conquer my fears. I want to get into my comfortable bed and sleep for twelve hours.”

“One tankard of ale.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Nonsense. I said I would take you to Valhalla, and would you make a liar of me?”

“Well, no, but –”

“Come, my lad, it’s right over there.”


Walt pointed across the snowy street, to where a reddish Rheingold sign glowed dimly.



“But that just looks like a bar.”

“Yes, I know, but this is a very special bar, my boy.”

“Wait a minute, this isn’t one of those homosexual bars, is it?”

“No. I mean, not exclusively.”

“I don’t know, Walt.”

“One tankard. Or perhaps a nice steamy cup of heated grog.”


“The hot spiced grog there is to die for.”

“I don’t know. It’s my brain. I feel as if my brains are seeping out of my ears. I’m wracked with terror, and also dread. I just want to go –”

“Milford, may I just interrupt you for a moment and ask you a personal question?”


“Are you going to go through your whole life saying, I don’t know, I’m afraid, I just want to go home?”


“And perhaps you will. But not tonight, sir. Not on Walt Whitman’s watch!”

And the big man took Milford’s arm and pulled him across the snow-covered sidewalk and over a mountain range of snow in the gutter and into the street. They paused as a great plow truck came trundling by, and Milford considered yanking his arm free and running away, but the truck passed and Walt Whitman dragged him across the street. They climbed over the ridge of snow on the opposite side, and Milford saw the electric Rheingold sign in a dark sunken areaway covered by an awning and separated from the sidewalk by an iron railing filigreed with snow.

“Here it is,” said Walt. “Don’t be afraid, you’re gonna love this place.”

Milford allowed himself to be brought down the steps where there stood a stout wooden door next to the neon Rheingold sign in a glass-brick window.

Walt opened the door, letting out that familiar explosion of noise, smoke, smells and light that signified “bar” and all the word bar stood for, the drunken days and drunker nights, the shouting, the hollow laughter, the unmemorable conversations with strangers, the reeling out the door at four in the morning, the horrible awakenings in cold wet alleyways.

The big poet took his arm out of Milford’s, and, placing his strong hand on the young poet’s back, he shoved him gently but firmly inside.

Polly got under the covers with Mr. Boodles her cat, and suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to invite Milford up so that she could at long last lose her virginity. Well, there was always tomorrow, or some other day, and what about that Walter man, what would it be like with a big bearded older fellow like him? And thinking of Milford and Walter and Montgomery Clift and Farley Granger she drifted off into oblivion as the snow fell on MacDougal Street outside her window.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, November 2, 2023

“One With the Universe”

The big man shoved his pipe into his coat, then hooked his burly right arm under Milford’s insubstantial left arm, pulled him to the door, drew it open, and out they went into the short hallway looking out on that crowded barroom filled with drunken shouting and laughing people, thick with smoke and blaring with jukebox music.

“Ah, humanity!” cried the man who would be Walt Whitman. “Do you see these good people, Milforth?”

“My name is Milford,” said Milford.

“I said my name is Milford!” shouted Milford.

“Is that what you told me before?”

“Yes! It’s Milford! Milford! M-I-L-F-O-R-D! Milford!

“No need to shout so loud, friend. I heard you the first time.”

“But everybody keeps calling me every name in the world except my real name, and I’m tired of it!”

“And do you ever wonder why that is?”

“Why I’m tired of it?”

“No, why people always get your name wrong?”

“Because they’re stupid.”

“I hope you’re not calling me stupid, Wilford. That’s no way to begin a grand manly friendship.”

“Oh, forget it.”

“Tell me your name again.”


“Milford?” said ‘Walt Whitman’. “I could have sworn you said Redford.”

“Look,” said Milford, “it doesn’t matter, and I’m sorry I shouted. Now can we go to the bar, because I can see my lady friend is still there, thank God.”

“Boy, you really do have a bee in your bonnet about this alleged lady friend, don’t you?”

“I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about her, but she’s been waiting for me to get back from the men’s room for about a half hour now.”

“It hasn’t been a half hour.”

“Twenty minutes then.”

“More like fifteen minutes, I’ll warrant.”

“Look, Mr. Whitman, can we just go over there, before she gets tired of waiting and leaves?”

“You really do want to get in her knickers tonight, don’t you?”

“Look, Mr. Whitman –”

Walt. Please, we’re friends, so call me Walt.”

“Look, Walt, not that it’s any of your business, but, yes, I would like to – oh, forget it.”

“Oh. Wait.”

“What?” said Milford.

“I think I understand now.”

“Great, because I don’t.”

“You are a virgin, aren’t you?”

“Oh, Christ.”

“The big guy is not going to help you in this matter, Redfield, nor in any other. Sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be. Some things a man has to do himself. And dipping your wick into a young lady’s moist pink envelope for the first time is amongst the foremost of those things.”

“Okay, fine. Now can we please go over there?”

“Which one is she? That buxom babe in red? In which case, well done, my lad, well done indeed, and my old slouch hat off to you!”

“No, it’s not the one in red, it’s the one to the left of the one in red.”

“Oh. Her. Well, she looks all right, I suppose, if you like that thin mousy type. What is she, another versifier?”

“She’s a novelist I think, or at least a would-be novelist.”

“Yes, of course she is. Probably adores the Georges Eliot and Sand.”

“How did you know?”

“Hey, again, even though I may prefer the simple fellowship of good strong honest workmen, I know dames. But tell me this, why not go for the one in red?”

“Look, I’m not going to answer that, Mr. Whitman.”


“I’m not going to answer that, Walt.”

“She wouldn’t have you, I suppose.”

“Oh, God.”


“It’s happening again.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m floating above my body.”


“Yes, I’m talking to you, but my consciousness is floating several feet above my head.”

“I told you that hash was some good shit.”

“I think I might be going insane.”

“You’re not going insane. You are merely becoming one with the universe.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Embrace the wholeness of the universe.”

“I don’t want to. I just want to return to my body.”

“There are plenty of yogis in Tibet who meditate for decades trying to reach the state you have now achieved.”

“Fuck the yogis, and fuck Tibet.”

“You know what the Buddha said. He said –”

“And fuck the Buddha too.”


“Oh, wait.”

“What is it?”

“I’m back in my body now,” said Milford, and indeed he was, standing here outside the men’s room door with this Walt Whitman holding his arm in his.

“So you’re all right now?” said Walt Whitman.

“I wouldn’t say I’m all right, but I’m better,” Milford’s voice said. “Can we go over to the bar now?”


“I feel strange.”

“Oh, now you feel strange?”

“I mean strange in a different way. I just remembered those mushrooms I ate.”

“Oh, the mushrooms.”

“Yes, I think they are beginning to take effect.”

“Lucky you.”

“I have to get to my lady friend before they take effect.”

“And then what?”

“Then what I don’t know.”

“I’m starting to like you, Renfield. Let’s go.”

And off they forged, arm in arm, through the laughing and shouting drunk people, through the thick smoke and the loud jukebox music, to the bar, and to Milford’s so-called friends.

“Hi, Polly,” said Milford, forcing the words out of his mouth in her direction. “I’m back.”

Back, back, the word echoed through the hidden corridors of Milford’s brain.

Polly, who had apparently been deep in conversation with Bubbles and Addison, turned to Milford.

“What did you say?”

“I said I’m back,” oozed the words from Milford’s mouth.

“You went somewhere?”

“Ha ha,” boomed Walt Whitman, heartily. “Ha ha, I say! How divinely risible!”

Risible, risible, the word echoed through the dark courtyards behind the hidden corridors of Milford’s brain. Will my humiliations never cease? he wondered, and he knew the answer was no, no…

{Please go here to read the “adult comix version, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 26, 2023

“The Song of Himself”

Another maniac, thought Milford. But then, who am I to speak critically?

“Hey, don’t keep me hanging, chum,” said the big guy. “I’m asking you for a handshake, pure and simple, one hearty chap to another, and I assure you my hand is clean.”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth-plus-one time this day, and extended his hand, which the big fellow took and squeezed.

“Perhaps you’ve heard of me,” he said.

“Walt Whitman? Sure,” said Milford.

“So you are a reader of poetry?”

“Uh, yeah, sure –”

“Splendid. And have you read my work?”

“Walt Whitman’s work?” said Milford.

“Yes, my work.”

The man still held onto Milford’s hand, squeezing it with great strength.

“Okay,” said Milford, “look, uh, sir, can I have my hand back now?”

“Do you fear the honest handshake, flesh to flesh, of your friendly fellow man?”

“Yes,” said Milford.

“Ha ha,” said the Walt Whitman impersonator.

“And anyway,” said Milford, “I just want my hand back because I want to get out of this men’s room.”

“Oh, very well,” said the man, and at last his large hand released Milford’s small hand.

“Thanks,” said Milford. He could feel the sweat of the big man’s hand on the outside of his own, and he stretched out and flexed his fingers to restore the flow of his thin blood.

“I hope I did not cause you physical pain with my powerful grip,” said the man. “I am a great devotee of physical exercise, and from my youth it has been my daily practice to go to the gymnasium and climb ropes with the agility of our simian forebears, toss medicine balls with abandon, and swing dumbbells quite vigorously. It also goes without saying that I adore a good stout perspirant bout of Greco-Roman wrestling.”

“Great,” said Milford. “Look, nice meeting you, but I really have to go now.”

The madman took a step sideways, blocking Milford’s path to the door.

“At first I conjectured by your rough attire that you must be a slightly undersized seaman or longshoreman. But, having now felt the gentle silken softness of your lily-white hands, I’ll venture that you are, like me, a poet.”

Milford added one more sigh to the sighs of his day, bringing their number up to 12,002.

“Yes, I’m a poet,” he said, “but a bad poet. And now if you’ll excuse me and let me pass.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” said the big man. “Walt Whitman has been dead and buried lo this more than two score and ten of years, so how could he now be standing before me, a burly bruiser in the prime of his life, here in this jakes of a Greenwich Village trattoria?”

“Yes, but I was born and raised in this neighborhood, and have become used to its profusion of lunatics, so I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“Take a dekko at what I’m gonna show you, pal.” The guy was wearing a sturdy brown woolen coat, and he reached into one of its pockets and brought out a book. “Here, open this up and turn to the frontispiece.”

Milford took the book and obediently opened it up, but only because he was a coward. Sure enough, the book was an old edition of Leaves of Grass, and there opposite the title page was a photograph of a man in a workman’s coat and slouch hat who looked exactly like the man who now stood before him.

“Okay,” said Milford. “Great. You’re Walt Whitman.”

He closed the book and proffered it back to the man.

“You’re convinced now?”

“Yeah,” said Milford, “sure.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“Look, mister, what would you think if some dead poet suddenly appeared to you and said he was alive?”

“I wouldn’t think anything of it, because I associate in brotherly good comradeship with deceased poets all the time.”

“Okay, well, that’s good to hear, but, look, here’s your book back because I really have to go.”

“Smoke a bowl with me first.”


“Share a fraternal pipe with me.”

He held up the pipe, which had gone out.

“No, thank you,” said Milford.

“I don’t have cooties.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” said Milford, although he was sure of nothing of the sort.

“This is my special blend,” said the man. “The finest Kentucky  burley mixed with Lebanese hash.”


“Hashish. Dynamite shit, man.”

“Oh, no.”

“I thought you were a poet.”

“A bad poet, yes, but I just smoked marijuana not long ago, and just now I ate some mushrooms which I suspect are the mind-altering kind. Also, I foolishly drank some wine, which I shouldn’t have, because I am an alcoholic.”

“A couple of hits aren’t going to kill you, buddy. Here, look.” The man reached into a pocket and brought out a wooden match. He struck it on the engraved outside of the bowl of his pipe, and, putting the mouthpiece into his bearded lips, his drew the flame in, puffing quickly and deeply, then held the smoke in. “Wow,” he said, after holding it in for a minute and then exhaling in Milford’s face.

He held out the pipe, the stem pointed at Milford’s mouth.

“Your turn.”

“I don’t want it,” said Milford.

“You’re gonna hurt my feelings,” said the guy.

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford.

“Don’t bring our lord and savior into this, Mimford.”


“Milford, sorry, but leave the Big Fellow out of this. This is between us, two manly troubadours. Like the noble native red man, I offer you the pipe of friendship, and I shall take it as the gravest insult should you refuse.”

“Oh, all right,” said Milford, because he didn’t want to make a scene, and because he was afraid the man might become violent, and thrash him, leaving him bleeding and unconscious here on the stained and butt-strewn tiles of this men’s room. He took the pipe. The man’s match had gone out, so he tossed it to the litter on the floor, and brought out another one from his coat pocket, striking it expertly on the thumbnail of the hand that held it. Milford wiped the stem of the pipe on the sleeve of his coat and put it in his lips, and the man gave him a light.

Five minutes later (or was it a half hour?) Milford was still standing there and holding the pipe, which had been passed back and forth to the man several times, and refilled at least two or three or four times from a leather pouch the man had fished out of his work coat. 

Up from the depths of Milford’s brain arose the bubble of a thought which burst with the words, Will I ever learn?

he answered himself, I’ll never learn.

“Oh, shit,” he said.

“What’s the matter, Mungford?”

“I have a lady friend waiting for me out there. She’ll be wondering what happened to me.”

“Are you entirely sure of that?”

“I am entirely sure of nothing.”

“In my experience,” said the man, “other people very rarely wonder what has happened to us.”

“I have to go. Here’s your pipe back. Oh, and your book.”

“Keep the book.”

“But it looks valuable.”

“It is.”

“I can’t accept it.”

“Yes you can.”

“Wait, are you really Walt Whitman?”

“Of course.”

“Oh. Christ.”

“Again, my dear fellow, leave the son of God out of this. All you need to know is that I – and you, and all men – exist outside and independent of that concept we call ‘time’.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Come with me, my good fellow, and I shall show you where all your favorite allegedly dead heroes live and thrive, and raise and down tankards of strong ale and get roaring drunk but never hungover.”

“I can’t, I just remembered, again, that my lady friend is waiting for me.”

“Maybe she’s waiting.”

“Maybe,” said Milford. “But, look, I have to go.”

“Bring her along.”


“Bring this alleged ‘lady friend’ with you. Is she nice?”


“Contrary to what you may have heard I have nothing against the fair sex. I am quite good friends with Mistress Bradstreet, with Harriet Beecher Stowe, with Emily Dickinson. Oh, If I were not a gentleman, sir, I could tell you tales about Miss Emily Dickinson! I know she has the reputation of a shy, sensitive spinster, and I’ll admit there is some truth in that characterization, but, believe you me, you get a couple of sherries in her while down the tavern listening to a Negro jug band play their ribald minstrelsy, and just won’t little Miss Belle of Amherst leap up and dance the Black Bottom with the best of them!”

“Um, uh –”

“Give me the pipe.”

Milford gave the man the pipe.

“Now put that book in your pocket.”

Milford stuffed the book into the pocket of his pea coat.

“And now,” said Walt Whitman, “my new good youthful friend, let us strike out, and strike forth, to a very special place that only the select few have visited this side of the grave.”

“What place?”

“Valhalla, my friend. Yes, it is a place we not so very jokingly call Valhalla.”

“Oh,” said Milford, with a feeling of both dread and wonder.

{Yes, this is the 200th episode I’ve composed in this series since we started it in November of 2019! Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 19, 2023

“Haul Away Joe”

Through the crowd of drinkers Milford stepped, and before he knew it he felt himself rising above it all. Yes, once again his inner being had separated from its corporeal host, and he looked down on the awkward dolt in the pea coat and newsboy’s cap, jostled and elbowed by careless bohemians.

Is this it? he wondered. Have I at last lost my mind? But I am still in my mind, so how can I be lost? What difference does it make if I am floating up here beneath this flaking tin ceiling embossed with its patterns of dead flowers and vines instead of being trapped inside my skull? Better by far to drift over to the door and wait for someone to open it so that I may float outside into the falling snow and up into the vast interstellar reaches of outer space…

But then he was back inside of his egg-like skull, standing by the bar as Polly chattered away to Addison and Bubbles.

What was she saying? Words were coming from her mouth but all poor Milford could hear was the jukebox music, a song of love unrequited.

Polly turned to him.

“Don’t you think so, Milford?”

“Yes,” his voice said, and then he realized he needed to urinate, and urgently. All those ginger ales, and then the forbidden wine. Sometimes it seemed that his whole life was bounded by trips to and from toilets.

“Are you quite all right, dear boy?” said Polly, still speaking in her Katharine Cornell voice. Or was it Katharine Hepburn? “You seem somehow distrait.”

“I wonder if you’ll excuse me for just a minute,” he said.

“Oh but why.”

“I just have to, uh –”


“I need to, I have to, I’ll just be a minute, I promise –”

“Why so mysterious?”

“Oh, it’s not mysterious, it’s just that I have to, you know –”

“He has to visit the gents’,” said Addison.

“Oh,” said Polly.

“Even poets got to strangle the worm sometimes,” said Bubbles.

“But whatever does that mean, to ‘strangle the worm’?” asked Polly.

“He has to make pee pee,” said Bubbles.

“Oh,” said Polly. “Oh!” She turned to Milford again. “I live quite close by if you can hold it in.”

“I prefer not to,” said Milford.

“So it’s quite urgent.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Go ahead, Milford, old boy,” said Addison. “Bubbles and I shall keep the lovely Polly amused.”

“Oh but do hurry,” said Polly. And she leaned in close to him and whispered: “I am ever so eager.”

Eager? To make love? With him? How extraordinary.

“Yes, I’ll hurry,” he said.

He caught Bubbles’ eye, and she was shaking her head, and there was Addison, grinning, and Polly, smiling.

“Go then!” said Polly. “And godspeed.”

He turned and set forth once more, toward the rear of the barroom, his consciousness roiling inside his head, and he hadn’t gone five steps when Mr. Eliot called from the round table he sat at with those other fellows from earlier tonight, which seemed like a year ago.

“Grimford! Get your ass over here!”

Milford obediently made his way over to the table.

There sat Mr. Eliot, with that guy Detroit Slick, and that other guy Lucas Z. Billingsworth, and the other four, what were their names?

“Pull up a chair, my lad,” said Mr. Eliot. “We can always squeeze one more in.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t, I have to, uh, use the rest room.”

“What is it with you and rest rooms?”

“I have to relieve myself.”

“Yes, of course, but first you must partake of the sacrament with us.”

“The what?”

The one guy with glasses and dark hair held out a crumpled paper bag.

“Mushrooms,” he said. Was Allen his name? “Go ahead, take one.”

“A mushroom?”

“Yeah, it’s our sacrament. We’re all taking it to celebrate the birth of our new literary movement.”

“The Beat Movement,” said the handsome dark-haired guy. Was it Jack?

Milford took the bag, looked into it. It looked like a bunch of dried mushrooms all right.

“Don’t hesitate,” said the thin blond guy in the suit. Bill was it? “You hesitate, you’re fucked.”

“Go ahead,” said the little curly-haired guy. Gregory? “We all took some, and now you got to.”

“Live dangerously,” said Lucas Z. Billingsworth.

“Don’t be a chump,” said Detroit Slick.

“Go on, Bumford,” said Mr. Eliot. “Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” said Milford. “It’s just I really have to urinate.”

“Then pop one of those bad boys and then go urinate,” said Mr. Eliot.

“I just had dinner.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Gumford,” said Mr. Eliot. “Give me that fucking bag.”

He took the bag from Milford’s hand. “Now hold out your hand.”

Milford held out his hand and Mr. Eliot shook some of the contents of the bag into the young poet’s palm. They did seem to be dried mushrooms of some sort.

“Now stick those in your gob, chew them up thoroughly, and swallow ‘em down.”

“If I do that, can I go to the men’s room?”

“Yes, and with my blessing.”

“All right, then,” said Milford, and he stuffed the mushrooms into his mouth, and began to chew. They didn’t taste good, but they didn’t taste really bad. They just tasted like something you would spit out if you had any good sense at all, which Milford knew he didn’t have.

“Good boy,” said Mr. Eliot. “Now you are officially one of us. The Beat Generation, daddy-o!”

The other fellows at the table all laughed.

“All right,” said Mr. Eliot, “I know you’re anxious to take a slash, so go. Come back and join us when you’re done.”

“I can’t.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“I’m with this young lady.”

“Then bring her over too.”

“But we were just on our way out.”

“Oh, okay. I get it. You want to get your end in.”

“Um –”

“No, it’s okay, Bumstead. I get it. I was young once too, believe it or not. So go. Split. Get your rocks off, and God bless. Oh, but don’t forget our lunch date tomorrow.”


“You forgot already. The Prince Hal Room at the St Crispian. One o’clock. No, make it two.”


“Unless you got somewhere else to be.”

“I have nowhere else to be, ever.”

“See ya then, kid.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Eliot.”


“Goodnight, Tom.”

“Go on, go.”


Mr. Eliot turned back to face the rest of the newly-born Beat Generation, and Milford turned and launched off again into the alcoholic throng, still chewing the mushrooms, and by the time he made his way to the men’s room he had just about swallowed the last of them.

Inside a big bearded fellow stood smoking a pipe between the sink and the paper-towel dispenser. The smoke smelled odd, a little like the marijuana Milford had smoked not long ago, but thicker and deeper.

“Hi,” said the man.

“Hello,” said Milford.

He went over to one of the two urinals.

“Don’t mind me,” said the bearded man. “I’m just enjoying a quiet bowl before I head out there again.”

“Okay,” said Milford.

“Once more unto the breach, ha ha.”

Milford said nothing, but unbuttoned the fly of his dungarees, and fumbled out of his boxer shorts his alleged organ of masculinity.

“I hope I don’t make you feel awkward,” said the guy. “Standing here. Please feel free to ask me to leave if you’re pee shy, or just if I, you know, make you feel at all uneasy or awkward in any way, shape or form.”

Milford felt awkward, but it occurred to him that he nearly always felt awkward every moment of his life, and what did one more awkward situation matter?

The bearded man began to hum, and then to sing, “’Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe…”

And, despite the presence of the singing and humming bearded man with the pipe, after only half a minute Milford’s urine flowed of its own volition through his appendage and out into the stained porcelain.

“Ah, the joy of a good pee,” said the bearded man, interrupting his song. “We drink the wine, the rich red wine, and the beer, the yellow or brown beer, or the cider, or grog, and then, yes, as enjoyable as it was coming in, perhaps even more enjoyable it is when it comes out!”

Milford made no comment to this, but concentrated on emptying his bladder, and when at last he had finished, he buttoned up his fly, and headed to the sink.

“Good to see you wash your hands,” said the bearded man. “I don’t approve of these chaps who just take a piss and don’t bother to wash their hands. Kind of gross, you ask me.”

Again Milford said nothing, but pumped some liquid soap from the dispenser and began to wash his hands. He must get out of here and rejoin Polly at the bar. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad with her. He was only glad he had urinated here rather than waiting and going at her place. What if she lived in a small apartment, and would be able to hear his urine splashing into the bowl?

He finished rinsing his hands and when he turned toward the paper-towel dispenser the bearded guy beat him to it, cranked out a length of coarse brown paper, tore it off and handed it to him.

“There you go, fellow.”

“Thanks,” said Milford.

“What’s your name?”


He perfunctorily dried his hands and crumpled the paper. The man stood between him and the wire trash basket by the wall. He stepped aside. Milford went past him and dropped the paper into the basket, and as he turned away from it the man was standing there with his hand outstretched.

“Whitman’s the name. Walt Whitman. Put ‘er there, pal.”

{Please click here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}